Reality check: No to a national unity government

These elections were a referendum on Netanyahu, and the electorate gave the prime minister its overwhelming backing.

Benny Gantz  (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
Benny Gantz
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
Frightened (and with good reason) by the prospects of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, some people are calling for the establishment of a national unity government. They argue that the election results actually show that the majority of the country wants a middle-of-the-road government, as opposed to a Netanyahu-Smotrich-haredi coalition.
The left-wing musician Aviv Geffen and right-wing comedian and columnist Hanoch Daum authored a joint manifesto over the weekend expressly calling for such a coalition. They and others claim that the decimation of the small parties in these elections – particularly the failure of Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s New Right Party and Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut Party to cross the electoral threshold and the small number of seats for Meretz – shows that voters have rejected extremism in favor of moderate, mainstream parties such as the Likud and Blue and White.
With the Likud and Blue and White hoovering up a massive 71 out of the Knesset’s 120 seats, and with no huge ideological differences between the two, the argument continues, there is no reason for them not to work together for Israel’s good. By combining forces, they would be able to neutralize the disproportionate influence of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and more extreme right-wing parties on the workings of Israel’s government.
WHILE IT’S true that many of Blue and White’s soon-to-be Knesset members would fit quite comfortably within the Likud, and some of the Likud’s more moderate MKs were members of Ariel Sharon’s centrist Kadima Party in the past, the question of ideological compatibility is irrelevant here. These elections were not fought over issues of ideology, they were a straightforward referendum on the suitability of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to remain in office.
Let’s not forget: There was no overwhelming political reason for going to the polls. Netanyahu decided to chance his arm in a failed attempt to persuade Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to delay publishing his decision to indict the prime minister, subject to a hearing, on a variety of criminal charges, including bribery.
Can anybody remember any debate of substance regarding the country’s future during the campaign? There wasn’t. The messianic libertarian Feiglin may have published a 344-page book saying Israel should annex the entire West Bank, encourage Palestinians to leave the territories, move government facilities to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, but he attracted attention outside of his small settler base only because of his push to legalize marijuana.
These whole elections were centered around Netanyahu – yes or no. Supporting the Likud, the haredim or parties to the right of the Likud was casting a vote in the clear knowledge that if this bloc won, the next government would first and foremost devote its energies to enacting legislation that will ensure Netanyahu remains prime minister, no matter how tight the legal noose chafes around his neck.
A vote for Blue and White and leftward, meanwhile, was a defiant vote against Netanyahu the person, although not necessarily his policies. While Labor and Meretz clearly have a different vision for Israel than the Likud, the same cannot be said for Blue and White, a hastily assembled, not always coherent coalition of three independent parties.
Blue and White’s Moshe Ya’alon, Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser all left the Likud or the Prime Minister’s Office because of the prime minister’s shady character, not over legislation such as the Nation-State Law or settlement policy in the West Bank.
On a side note, it will be interesting to see how Blue and White develops in the opposition, and whether it will succeed in remaining one party, regardless of the deep ideological chasm between its different constituents.
The point of having elections is to make a decision: Do we want X or Y running the country? Last week, the country clearly made its choice. Despite facing charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, as well as new suspicions surrounding his startling decision not to inform the defense minister or IDF chief of staff of his support for Germany’s sale of advanced submarines to Egypt, the electorate gave its overwhelming backing to Netanyahu.
Indeed, when the “lost” votes for the New Right, which always said Netanyahu was its candidate for prime minister, are factored in, Netanyahu’s victory is even more impressive. With such a decisive win, calls for a national unity government in which Netanyahu would have to share power with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz are nothing more than a desire to subvert the will of the people.
Funnily enough, the one person who perhaps is more concerned than would be expected by the extent of his victory is Netanyahu himself. Although he’ll be able to put in place legislation to keep him at arm’s length from the possibility of ending up in jail like his predecessor as prime minister, Netanyahu also knows that in this government he is likely to find himself a prisoner of the far Right when US President Donald Trump finally unveils his “deal of the century.”
Brace yourselves: The next elections might not be that far off.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.